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Josh Rubin and Tom Cheredar

Lemonade, we will make

With so much unfortunate news out in the world, Josh and I have taken care to keep these top messages a bit more upbeat and hopeful. Well, this time we aren’t going to do that, we’re just going to talk about what’s happening in the Austin media market, which also happens to be positive. One of media’s strongest attributes is its ability to shift gears in terms of content. We’re seeing that play out in many parts of the industry.


While raising funding for startups is difficult across the board, that didn’t stop Austin-based Atmosphere from raising a fresh $5 million round of funding for its continued growth. Atmosphere’s product thrives in public spaces, as it provides venue owners with a set-top box that plays one of the company’s streaming channels (see the explanation in the news blurbs below for more details). While social distancing measures limit crowds, that doesn’t mean people aren’t going out in public when absolutely necessary. Last week we highlighted how the company was shifting gears, or rather expanding by making their service available in places like doctor’s offices. Less eyeballs on content is supposed to mean “less valuable,” but that was before COVID-19. Now? Now I’d argue that the eyeballs you can get are likely more specific, and probably more valuable. Apparently, Atmosphere’s investors followed this logic, too.


But that isn’t the only instance of Austin-based companies making moves in this new reality for media. Recently, Austin Chronicle launched a “Chronicle Cooking” section, undoubtedly capitalizing on the increased amount of culinary activities people are participating in while stuck safe at home. Meanwhile, Texas Monthly recently launched an ongoing Livingroom Sessions music series to highlight Texas artists. 


Finally, we have Austonia, the ambitious news publication startup that initially saw its plans disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, what happened instead was that those plans changed, rapidly. Austonia launched its daily newsletter two weeks ago, before it's website was even online. Normally, you’d want to do months of planning that included an ambitious awareness campaign to spread the word about the launch of your new news publication or newsletter (especially as a pre-revenue startup!). But the coronavirus dropped a bushel of lemons on the world. If you’re in the business of media, you make lemonade. And that’s exactly what Publisher Mark Dewey and the rest of his team did.


“It’s the worst of times commercially, so I just sort of put the business model on the shelf for now. We can weather this,” Dewey told me in a phone interview Thursday. “We launched early because with this crisis going on, we felt like we had to be out there covering the city. We just couldn't wait. It would be weird to come in halfway through. Plus, people are at home looking for information and even a little bored. So it's a good time to be putting content in front of them and establishing a dialogue with the [community].”


The Austonia editorial team is filled with seasoned journalists who have built their credibility over years and across publications. Thus, having such a capable team in place, it would be ill advised not to take advantage of the opportunity to build trust within the community. And during a time where the news conglomerates are handing out pink slips and issuing furloughs to journalists while the need for verified, accurate information is at an all-time high, launching is also incredibly important for the well being of Austinites. 


Thus on Wednesday, launched with a slick design focused on enticing readers to visit regularly, rather than optimizing solely for SEO results and advertising campaigns. Most people seemed puzzled when I excitedly texted them with a link to Austonia now being online. “Why haven’t I heard about this site?” was a frequent response. 


If you’ve yet to visit, it’s filled with thoughtful pieces and story angles that connect the dots across the community. For instance, Stephanie Schwartz’s feature about scientists enlisting UT-Austin’s supercomputers to combat COVID-19, Emma Freer’s excellent deep dive into the city’s COVID-19 surge plan as well as her analysis piece about coronavirus cases in high-income Austin neighborhoods. There are plenty of good human interest pieces about how this virus is impacting members of the community, like “The council member and the firefighter, separated but tied together amid an epidemic.” And surprisingly (mostly just in presentation), Austonia is prominently displaying links to coronavirus coverage from other Austin publications it found relevant or important -- almost like a low key newswire service.


“We’re trying to create a great environment for journalists to work, where they're really encouraged to use their imagination to [find angles] and go where the stories take them,” Dewey told me. “We don’t cover meetings, as we’re not a paper of record in that sense. The Statesman, KUT, Texas Tribune, and some others are well-resourced to do that. [Austonia] may attend a meeting to chase a story, but we’re a different kind of publication.”


In other words, Austonia is trying to cut through the noise to get to the most valuable stories and analysis that matter -- all the while maintaining journalistic integrity you’d expect from other well-respected news sources. It’s no wonder Austonia is the only Austin publication to receive a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project


No matter what your situation is as a member of the local media industry, just remember these dark days will pass. Opportunities will return eventually. Until then, we’ll all be working with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got is each other. 


-Tom & Josh

Lonesome Road - AKA Josh got his college a cappella group (the GW Troubadours) together to record a song last week. Don't forget to make the most of your time while sheltering in place.

Much Delayed Media Monday Show! Ep. #003 -- Josh and I have been filling our Monday evenings recording a web show to discuss the week in Austin media Industry news. Although this past week we tried to do something different, fell behind, and then didn't have a chance to upload the show itself until today. For the third episode, we invited New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung Growth Reporter Lisa Dreher to be our guest host. Lots of great discussion, so check it out on our Facebook group page if you have a chance! [via Media ATX]

Austin-based streaming startup Atmosphere raises $5M -- “Austin-based Atmosphere, an entertainment streaming platform, has raised $5 million to fund the company’s continued growth… Atmosphere offers a free ad-supported streaming platform that is streamed in restaurants, bars, offices and other venues. The platform includes 21 ambient, audio-optional channels including CHIVE TV, Red Bull TV, X Games TV, America’s Funniest Videos TV and Quick Take by Bloomberg. The offerings give venues free content and an alternative viewing option to sports.” [via Austin-American Statesman]


All Together ATX kickoff raises $3.4M! -- When Austin media partners up, prepare for results! The initial all-day fundraising effort managed to raise $3.4 million for the All Together ATX, a partnership from Austin Community Foundation and United Way for Greater Austin. Check out Shawna Reding’s full article on KVUE for more details. (And don’t forget, we’re gearing up for a digital telethon hosted by Brian Brushwood April 14!)  [via KVUE]


Texas Observer hires Tristan Ahtone as new editor-in-chief -- “The Observer is very pleased to welcome Tristan Ahtone as our next editor-in-chief...Tristan is a Nieman fellow at Harvard University. He received a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and an undergraduate degree from the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is the current president of the Native American Journalists Association. Tristan comes to us from High Country News, where he was the indigenous affairs editor, and he previously worked for Al Jazeera America and NPR.” [via Texas Observer]


READ: Struggling Texas News Outlets Try to “Keep the Ship Afloat in the Apocalypse” -- As much as it sucks to mention, the news industry is still getting hammered pretty hard -- and then the coronavirus hit. For anyone who is a member of the press or regularly works alongside them, it’s worth reading this piece from Texas Monthly’s Michael Hardy about the realities many Texas publications are facing. [via Texas Monthly]


Coronavirus closes Austin staple ‘Vulcan Video’ --  "A sad day for the Austin film scene as staff broke the news via Twitter that Vulcan Video, the long-lived and beloved video rental store on Ben White, has closed permanently. Vulcan's place in Austin's film history is undeniable. Founded in 1985, it was part of the explosion of small VHS rental stores: However, most of those rental outlets were taken down by rising costs, the rise of streaming platforms, and the market dominance of Blockbuster. Sadly, while Vulcan survived for decades longer than most of its competitors (and even outlasted the big rental chains), now it joins other lost independent video stores like Pedazo Chunk, Encore, and the Movie Store on Guadalupe.” [via Austin Chronicle]


Exporting Austin Media Culture -- A semi-regular roundup of the best culturally distinct articles coming from our local media professionals. (And other misc. stuff.):

  • 7 Austin-related TV shows to binge right now - [Curbed Austin]

  • Croy & the Boys Cut The Covid Tapes - [Austin Chronicle]

  • AFF at Home: Character Q&A w/ Brian Helgeland - [Austin Film Festival]

  • New Murals in Austin You May Have Missed - [Austin Chronicle]

  • ATX hip-hop artist creates song teaching kids to avoid coronavirus - [KVUE]

  • Matthew McConaughey hosted virtual bingo for seniors - [CNN]

  • Now Streaming in Austin: "Slow Creep" - [Austin Chronicle]

  • Introducing Texas Monthly’s Living Room Sessions - [Texas Monthly]

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